Fort Smith sales tax revenue forces budget cuts, Elite Comfort expands workforce

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 139 views 

Budget cuts, a business expansion, and a fallen law officer took center stage at Tuesday night’s (Aug. 16) meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

City Finance Director Jennifer Walker said county sales tax revenues, which go toward funding the city’s general fund, were about $175,000 lower than budgeted, but “no service impacts are expected due to the proposed cuts.”

“The cuts include excess fuel budgets due to sustained lower fuel rates and lower than expected contract and election costs,” Walker said.

The revised amount for 2016 is $16.361 million, down from the budgeted amount of $16.536 million. Additional revenue reductions were recommended for the 1/4% city sales tax (revised $5.227 million, budgeted $5.491 million); street sales tax (revised $20.887 million, budgeted $21.537 million); and bond sales tax programs (revised $15.657 million, budgeted $16.152 million).

The total adjusted revenue reduction amount for city sales tax is $1.41 million. Street sales tax took the biggest hit with a $650,200 reduction while Bond Issues were next at $495,900. Fire and Parks revenues fell by $132,150 apiece.

The Board approved the recommendations 6-0. Director Tracy Pennartz did not attend the meeting.

Through June 30, the city collected $8.215 million in county sales tax revenue; $10.501 million in street sales tax; $7.876 million for bond issues; and $2.625 million for fire and parks.

In other business, the Board voted unanimously to endorse Elite Comfort Solutions for the Tax Back Program, a state economic incentive program available to new and expanding businesses that allows companies to receive rebates on sales taxes paid for the purchase of equipment or building materials used for development or expansion. Elite Comfort Solutions plans to expand its urethane and foam products manufacturing facility located in Fort Smith at 4921 State Line Road by investing $3.4 million in new equipment and renovations to existing buildings.

The project will upgrade manufacturing equipment to modern industry standards, expand the existing facility, and add 41 new jobs to the region with an average wage of $13.46 per hour, increasing the company’s local employment footprint by 48%.

The Board also approved $649,630 for the purchase of two jet vacuum trucks for the utilities department. Interim Utilities Director Bob Roddy called the vehicles “workhorses” and explained that the equipment shoots “a jet stream of water that dislodges any sediment in a sewer line.” The vacuum part sucks out materials, allowing the pipe flow capacity through its full diameter. The city already owns two of the trucks, “but we’re adding to that fleet, and that will intensify the amount of maintenance we’re doing,” Roddy said, noting that it would allow the department to hire additional crew, perform work in-house and avoid the greater expense of hiring a third party company.

The Board also approved a recommendation from the Fort Smith Transit Authority Commission to add new rider incentives to the city’s public transit program. The new incentives take the form of a $20 per month student pass for students 18 and under and a free fixed route pass to all veterans with a service-connected disability. Additionally, the Commission voted to offer four additional free ride days per year, going to eight from the current four. City Directors approved the recommendations unanimously. A standard fixed route monthly pass is $35.

Finally, in a somber vote to close the meeting, City Directors voted unanimously to donate grave space and waive interment fees at Oak Cemetery for any Fort Smith sworn police officer or firefighter and any sworn officer of the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Department killed “by the action of another while on active duty or in the line of duty or who dies from injuries so sustained within 30 days.”

City Administrator Carl Geffken authored the request, which works out to a monetary equivalent of $800 ($400 for the plot, $400 for interment). The request originated with the family of Sebastian County Sheriff Deputy William “Bill” Cooper, who was killed in the line of duty last Tuesday.

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